So, the red headed stepchild known as the mobile application is finally getting big, many thanks to Apple's recently launched Apps Store and the PR machine of Google Android OS. Apple's mobile applications quickly exceeded 10 million downloads within days of launch.
Mobile applications are nothing new. Palm has always adopted this model for their PDAs and Treo devices. Business like Handango sells mobile applications for a lving. What is different today is the easiness to buy, install, customize and remove these applications. The early mobile applications are clunky and difficult to work with. Majority of them require installation from a desktop machine. Today's mobile applications are vastly improved; they offer simple one-click installation/removal process that utilizes advance functions of smartphones (ie. GPS, WiFi, 3G Data Connection). In fact, as Video Acceleration for smartphones take more precedence, we will see more Widget-like mini applications perform powerful duties on various handsets.
As a marketing or IT professional, you are now required to think about how you would position your company into the mobile world. Depending on your services, you should consider the following options when developing your mobile application or web services:
Customer Demographics: Who are your primary customer target? Are they young or old? Male or Female? Answering these questions will likely help you design a mobile program that is tailored for your core customers. If, for example, your core customer is older and female. Chances are, they will not be very into smartphones. Perhaps a simple SMS alert sales/coupon campaign is more fitting, where as professional BlackBerry users may cater more towards a mobile email campaign. Younger, male audience will be more susceptible to trendy mobile applications that utilizes a smartphone's bells and whistles (hint: social networking?). Omniture just announced analytic features for mobile devices, where they can provide the breakdown of your customer's mobile browser, visit/log, and match back against a library of handset profiles, this can be very helpful to construct a mobile application that is fitting.
Consider your products and services: Are you a content publisher? eCommerce retailer? or a store with offline presence? If you do business online, is there a complicated checkout process? These questions can help you decide what mobile services to develop. For example, if you are a content provider, you may consider a robust mobile-web page that is universally compatible to majority of mobile browsers or simply push your content via an RSS feed which also works with mobile readers. AP Newswire and NY Times both have developed iPhone apps which are customized readers offering their news content quickly/dynamically, just as Travel Channel GO offers mobile applications for BlackBerry and Nokia Symbian S60 handsets. Consider the ability to allow your customers to download your content while they have data connection so they can view it while they are on a plane or in a subway at a later time; the value add here is giving them access even when they are disconnected. Having a mobile application available is going to provide a better user experience because you can take maximize each handset's built-in functions (buttons, Wifi, GPS, etc.), the trade-off is you would have to develop one application per smartphone type (ie. iPhone, Symbian S60, Android, Windows Mobile). Perhaps if you are an ecommerce retailer, an application in this case would be more suitable and justifiable to speed up the mobile experience in browsing catalogs and checkout; as long as you have a decent product feed, your can leverage all sorts of options. Building an application can be easy nowdays thanks to turnkey solutions providers; Godiva and 1800Flowers have both engaged in putting up their catalogs into a customized BlackBerry application powered by Digby. Perhaps your company provide a service with physical stores, try to think of ways to empower your customers with easiest way to get to your store equipped with the knowledge of cost and inventory. I mentioned Bank of America offering a cool application for the iPhones where they can use a user's handset location to suggest the nearest ATM and Branch. E*TRADE Mobile Pro is another financial services firm to join the mobile revolution by giving full account access over a BlackBerry application. Starbucks has a mobile website designed to help you to find the nearest cup of Joe. Generally speaking, mobile applications can provide more robust, simplified user experience that can defy the smaller screen challenge; one of the best example is eBay's iPhone application, simply amazing to carry out all primary functions from its website!
Some companies sees the impact of mobile marketing has on its core products even though its primary service may not have a direct link with the software side. Take Griffin Technology for example, they provide hardware accessories for iPhones/iPods but their software team jumped on the iPhone blitz with two games (5-Card Draw and Slots), apparently, both titles are well-received and have made it to the top spot in terms of download (within top 40 of paid apps). In my own personal experience, I am currently working with a mobile shopping portal called mShopper on one my projects at work. These guys offer a turnkey solution to create a WAP shopping portal for mobile handsets; all I had to do was provide them with a product feed normally used for comparison shopping engines (more reference here).
To sum this up, mobile applications are here to stay and this is just the beginning. It may seem like a fad because everyone is now trying to get into the game. If you are a marketer, consider your demographics, user profile and your own services to build a functional mobile experience for your audience. Keep in mind that you are not replacing existing channels (catalog, phone, web, stores) but to compliment with an extra value-add. If executed correctly, this is probably the most personal and intimate channel than ever since most mobile users would carry a phone everywhere they go up to 10 hours per day.